Why Nimbys Should Back Off Cogan’s ‘One Park’ Project

Aug 21, 2019 at 9:59 am
The current plans for One Park.  |  Courtesy of Jefferson Development Group.
The current plans for One Park. | Courtesy of Jefferson Development Group.

Editor's Note: Aug. 22's city planning committee meeting is to set a date for "One Park" to go before the Planning Commission.

After several design overhauls, One Park, a massive, mixed-use development proposed for Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive will soon go before a city planning committee. 

Developer Kevin Cogan of Jefferson Development Group has filed a request for a zoning change and alley closure to kick off construction of the project. On Aug. 22, the Land Development and Transportation Committee will set a date for a Planning Commission meeting to take a look at the proposal. 

Jefferson Development Group first filed plans for One Park with the city some three years ago. It’s gone through several iterations since then, many of which have drawn ire from nearby residents who took issue with the plan’s tall towers and potential traffic increases. 

Branden Klayko, the creator of the popular, Louisville urban planning blog Broken Sidewalk, wrote in 2017 that he approved of the project, calling it “completely necessary and especially appropriate.” He died at 33 a few months after writing about One Park, which did not have a name at the time, so he called it Lexington Grande. Since he wrote his piece, JDG’s plans for One Park have been massively overhauled, but Klayko’s main reasons for supporting the development remain relevant: 

“I believe it would create an exciting mid-point node between several neighborhoods, provide a visual gateway to Louisville, and promote density in a way that can realistically reduce vehicle miles traveled,” he wrote.

In the revisions, One Park lost its three high-rise towers, leaving it with a single, 18-story tower and lower-rise buildings. The tower, which developers hope to transform into an upscale hotel, is connected to another, tiered building with, at most, six floors on the bottom, a roof-like green-space in the middle and six more floors above that. 

The plans call for retail and restaurants on the ground floor (including the possibility of a grocery), with apartments or condos above and the potential for more restaurants on the sixth floor. 

One Park would not be as dense as it once was envisioned, with a decreased number of residential units (421 from the 730 mentioned in Klayko’s blog) and no immediate plans for office space. But, the retail and restaurant footprint would go to 55,000-square feet from 50,000, and there might be 10 more hotel rooms. If JDG is unable to attract a hotel tenant, the developer is keeping its options open for transforming the tower into another residential building, office space or, perhaps, a mix of all three uses.

JDG’s changes have also allowed for fewer parking spots, 1,202, down from 2,300, which would be hidden inside the development. 

The fight for One Park isn't close to over. There will be more planning meetings, and the development will need final approval from Metro Council. 

Below is an excerpted version of Klayko’s original piece: 

Thinking About Skyscrapers At Lexington And Grinstead

by Branden Klayko

Three towers have been proposed to rise in a woebegone patch of asphalt scattered with several local businesses where three Louisville neighborhoods meet. Jefferson Development Group (JDG), headed by developer Kevin Cogan, is planning apartments, condos, office space, retail, a hotel and parking on a triangular block bound by Lexington Road, Grinstead Drive and tiny Etley Avenue. Yet while the proposal is certainly bold and dramatic, a series of public meetings and a proposed development moratorium show there’s some serious opposition to the enormous project.

I’ve been thinking about the mixed-use project for a while now — it was first announced in 2014. It doesn’t have a name at this point, but we’ll call it Lexington Grande here in keeping with the nomenclature of JDG’s nearby projects. At first I had a few mixed feelings about the development. I appreciated the density and mix of uses just a few miles from Downtown, especially in this central yet out-of-the-way location, but was concerned about so much planned parking (2,300 spaces!). I admired the attention to the street level and sidewalk design but wondered if the overall design would compliment the natural settings that surround it such as Cherokee Park, Cave Hill Cemetery and the Beargrass Creek Greenway.

The more I thought about Lexington Grande, the more I realized it is completely necessary and especially appropriate at this particular site. But I would urge JDG and their architects, Louisville-based Tucker Booker Donhoff + Partners (TBD+) to take a closer look at a few details that would help the new building integrate with its surroundings and become a cherished landmark and gateway for the city. ... 

At first glance, Lexington Grande’s three towers — some of the city’s tallest — rising from a large podium base are shocking in their ambition and scale. But once the initial jolt of something new on what’s traditionally been a hodgepodge of low buildings and parking lots in a disconnected, leftover corner of Irish Hill wears off, the underlying premise of the project is clearly the right direction for this location and for the city of Louisville.

That doesn’t mean I’d rubber stamp the proposal — and I hope serious scrutiny is given to the project as it (eventually) moves through the regulatory process, ending with approval from Metro Council. The 3.3-acre block is currently zoned C-2, which permits the developer to build eight-stories as-of-right, but JDG, through its lawyer, Bill Bardenwerper, is seeking a zoning change to Planned Development District (PDD) that would allow the decidedly taller proposal. ...

 ... Above, concealing the parking garage podium, are 730 apartments along a single-loaded corridor. This treatment would be similar to a Courtyard by Marriott, which wraps a parking garage at the corner of Second and Main streets. JDG’s garage would contain a whopping 2,300 parking spaces serving the entire project.

The apartments would rise up above the garage to define a park-like plaza on its roof, potentially with more retail space. From this plaza, three towers — two for condos and one for a hotel — would climb to heights of 34, 29 and 28 stories respectively. The hotel would contain 240 rooms situated above 120,000-square-feet of office space.

JDG has estimated the total project cost at more than $200 million.

The Right Place for Density

If Lexington Grande were proposed for the middle of Irish Hill, or neighboring Cherokee Triangle or Crescent Hill, it would be easy to oppose its current scale. But it’s not in the center of a neighborhood — it’s isolated from the historic centers and surrounded by green space.

Irish Hill, somewhat appropriately shaped like a shillelagh, a traditional Irish walking stick and war club, lies predominantly to the west of the project site between Lexington Road and Baxter Avenue on the other side of the cemetery. The building site is isolated by a narrow and spindly corridor of Lexington Road pressed between the cemetery walls, Beargrass Creek and Interstate 64. Still, this snippet of land remains within the neighborhood bounds. Similarly, Cherokee Triangle and Crescent Hill are far from the site but have spurs that reach out and border the site.

As it would stand, the project borders green space on most of its perimeter with some commercial space to its north. To the south, an underutilized corner of Cherokee Park containing Willow Pond is cut off from the rest of the park by a golf course and is empty most days. An influx of new people could help bring activity to the space and warrant investment in a shoddy pedestrian environment. West, Cave Hill Cemetery sits cloistered behind its brick wall, and east, a vegetated area shields Interstate 64 from view. To the north sits the entrance to the Beargrass Creek Greenway and a planned landscaped CSO basin by MSD that will serve as another sort of park.

Density is best placed around such central-yet-depopulated areas and great around parks and active transportation facilities like trails and bike lanes.

Transportation Options Abound

Given Louisville’s automobile-oriented transportation setup, it would seem likely most people living, working, or shopping at Lexington Pointe would have a car in tow. And for them, the site is conveniently located at the intersection of two prominent streets and a short distance from the Grinstead Drive entrances to Interstate 64.

But there are plentiful transportation options that don’t require a personal vehicle at this site as well. The Beargrass Creek Trail is an excellent bikeway and is planned for extension to the Ohio River. Grinstead has been striped with bike lanes for several years now in both directions and plenty of low traffic residential streets make for pleasant biking to Frankfort Avenue or Bardstown Road. TARC also operates two bus lines passing by the site (routes 25 and 29) and a half-dozen express routes pass by on 64 without stopping. It seems logical that TARC could adjust its routes given such an increase in activity and density. [Ed. note: JDG is calling for a new TARC stop on Lexington Road.]

Moreover, the mixed-use nature of the project means overall transportation demand may be reduced. For instance, someone staying at the hotel may be doing business in the office space, or perhaps a person living in the apartments works in the retail or office space in the complex.

So Much Parking

One of the downsides of the proposal, in my opinion, is the behemoth quantity of parking spaces in its garage: 2,300 spaces. That’s a lot of parking, but at least it’s predominantly hidden behind hundreds of apartments. Still, the existence of parking works as an incentive to drive and the cost of building a structured garage increases the cost of the development and ultimately the cost of apartments, condos and commercial space.

Some residents of Irish Hill and surrounding neighborhoods have expressed concern over the project, however. The main concerns are of the typical NIMBY variety — namely that the project would create parking problems and increase traffic. Bardenwerper said a consultant is studying traffic in the area and proposed a stoplight at Etley Avenue, which would have the dual effect of making Grinstead easier to cross on foot.

In terms of traffic, there’s already a plan — the Lexington Road Corridor Transportation Plan—that’s nearly two years old yet remains unimplemented in typical Louisville fashion. That document calls for a protected bike lane, improved sidewalks and reconfigured roadbed for the area. Traffic counts compiled by KYTC for this stretch of Lexington show the street already handles less traffic than a similar road diet treatment on Brownsboro Road several years ago. It’s time for this plan to be implemented.

Design with the Park in Mind

TBD+’s design doesn’t break any barriers, which is a good and bad thing. To my eye, the generally generic design could fit in a number of cities, but that’s something of the reality of such architecture today. ... At first glance, the trio of towers made me think of another large-scale mixed-use project in my old neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ...

... The [Lexington Grande] facade wall, while broken up visually with different materials, currently runs a high risk of appearing flat in real life. Setbacks, while they may add cost, would greatly enhance the project’s design and provide larger outdoor spaces for some apartments.

 ... Here at the prow of the wedge-shaped block, Lexington Grande exposes its parking garage in a manner completely inappropriate for a prominent intersection facing one of Louisville’s most noted parks.

Part of the garage is exposed outright and a false facade attempts to conceal another portion. A building site like this one has no “back” and the structure must present a finished and complete facade on all sides. Exposed parking garages won’t cut it. This section must be redesigned to better respond to its context.

A Long Road Ahead

Don’t expect construction crews on the site any time soon. Lexington Grande has a long way to go, including meetings before the Planning Commission and ultimately approval of Metro Council. I would generally like to see the project approved, and I’m optimistic that JDG will take it upon themselves to address a couple small design details. Or that the Planning Commission will require it. This development has the real potential to be a gateway to not just The Highlands but to Downtown and the rest of the city beyond.

There will also be plenty of NIMBY opposition along the way that could threaten to derail or substantially alter the project for the worse. The arguments so far against the development include the towers’ impact on Cherokee Park, potential increases in traffic, sewer issues, noise problems and perceived lowered property values, among others. The height of the three towers has reportedly been the most common complaint. Some opponents indicated they might initiate lawsuits against the project. Some of these complaints are being studied by the developer, but others have no merit.

Despite opposition from some, there has been support for the project as well, so there is by no means a consensus that it won’t fit on the site or at the isolated confluence of neighborhoods. I count myself among its supporters. ...

 ... I hope that JDG’s Irish Hill project moves forward. I believe it would create an exciting mid-point node between several neighborhoods, provide a visual gateway to Louisville and promote density in a way that can realistically reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The proposal is on the right track and with the right attention to detail on the part of the developer and architect, Lexington Grande could be a real showpiece. ...  •

Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden was a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis and covered architecture, design and urbanism for The Architect’s Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat and the American Institute of Architects.